Usually when we put Josh Dobbs in the poll, he wins. And Dobbs was certainly one of the most important pieces in Tennessee’s win over the Hokies last week. This week the choices are a little less famous against the Bobcats, but no less important as the Vols try to figure out who they are with the most important stretch of the season coming next.
Will Shelton - Josh Smith
Remember Josh Smith? Made the biggest play of the year last season? 23 catches for 307 yards? He was targeted 12.4% of the time last season, and that number is only slightly down through two weeks at 10.9% this year. But he's only caught one pass for three yards. The slot receiver has been one of Dobbs' favorite targets in the past (Pig Howard, Von Pearson) but so far this year Alvin Kamara has been targeted at an even higher rate (19.6%) and catches by receivers have been almost exclusively Josh Malone & Preston Williams downfield and Jauan Jennings in the short game. Smith did have a nice almost-catch against Appalachian State instant replay overturned, but he feels like an unused dimension in the passing game so far.
And then today...
Tennessee WR Josh Smith was seen on crutches with an— Jimmy Hyams (@JimmyHyams) September 14, 2016
apparent ankle injury. He also has a wrist injury. He likely won’t play v. Ohio.
So Smith is off the board.
Incipient_Senescence -- Drew Richmond
Chance Hall is still injured, which means there are essentially two tackles on the team (unless you move Coleman Thomas--rumored to be playing through injury himself) to tackle. Redshirt freshman Drew Richmond has had a rough first couple weeks at left tackle. He only has one week left to get it together until Florida. He should have a talent advantage against a MAC opponent, and if the Vols want to have the line prepared for the four-week stretch that will define the season, he and his fellows absolutely have to step up this week.
Volundore - MLB TBD
While we're all relieved that nothing is broken, the rumor on Darrin Kirkland Jr. is that he is out 3-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain. That means he's going to miss somewhere between half and all of the season-defining, four-game stretch that starts next week against Florida. So...next man up? Whether Cortez McDowell, Quart'e Sapp, or (gulp...) Colton Jumper split snaps or one player takes the majority of them, we're going to need production out of this spot. Soon. A middle-of-the-road MAC team should provide a nice opportunity to work out a few kinks and get ready for the big boy battles to come.
Chris Pendley - Cam Sutton
Oh yeah. Right to the punt return vein.
Yeah. That's the stuff. (Seriously, it's gonna be great when people get dumb enough or desperate enough to throw and/or punt at Sutton and he houses it. Just loosen up for next week, man. You got this.)
Justin R. Phillips - Alvin Kamara
Last year, after games against Bowling Green and Oklahoma, Jalen Hurd had 47 total touches; Alvin Kamara had 20. After assurances from Mike DeBord that Kamara would be a more integral part of the offense this year, where do things stand for Team 120?
Two games into the season, Hurd has 52 touches; Kamara has 15 touches.
If Hurd has 20+ carries against Ohio something has gone terribly wrong. Kamara, or any back not named "Hurd", needs the ball Saturday with Florida kicking off the brutal conference schedule the following week.
Hunter Turner - Second Cornerback
Tennessee's revamped defense improved significantly from game one to game two, with Shy Tuttle's return transforming a somewhat pedestrian defensive line into the fierce, disruptive group everyone expected. That leaves two major concerns for Bob Shoop heading into the Vols' four game gauntlet: 1) the gaping hole at middle linebacker Volundore has already pointed out; and 2) the mediocre play of cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Justin Martin across from Cam Sutton. By design, Shoop's defense forces quarterbacks to make long throws to the sideline against single coverage-- something difficult or impossible for most college quarterbacks. Unfortunately, through two games of the season, Moseley and Martin have struggled to play with consistent technique and discipline against those throws, bailing out opposing offenses with poor positioning (Moseley) and inopportune penalties (Martin). Shoop must find a reliable solution before the Vols match up against an offense with the skill positions to take advantage, or Tennessee could be looking at a repeat of Antonio Callaway's game winning touchdown reception-- only this time at home.
_trey_ - Pass Protection
Just getting this out of the way- any talk of benching Dobbs right now is bonkers. But after a couple of shaky passing performances (and a newly-discovered love of the panicky arm punt), a flaky Bobcats secondary should give some excellent chances for Dobbs to settle into his downfield passing game (and for DeBord to actually call some passes beyond the line of scrimmage). But none of that is happening unless the pass protection issues get sorted out. The line looked somewhat improved following the positional juggling Saturday, but they're going to have to be much, much better to see this team through the murder-gauntlet of SEC divisional play. Trouncing a strong Solich front seven would be a decent place to start.